Vietnamese and Chinese - how close are they really?
Thread poster: Fabio Descalzi

Fabio Descalzi  Identity Verified
Uruguay
Local time: 23:55
Member (2004)
German to Spanish
+ ...
Dec 24, 2007

Hi people from all over the world

This is a question about tips for learning Vietnamese. A very concrete question.

To start with: I am a fluent speaker of Western European languages. And in my teens I started learning Chinese as well, which has been so far the most "exotic and different" language I ever tried.
Lately, as a result of being active in the language industry, I have been managing projects in Vietnamese - and this language has started to tempt me.

Reading about the fundamentals of Vietnamese, I come to learn that a lot of its vocabulary has been borrowed from Chinese. But what about the rest of the language? Word order, structure, syntax, use of classifiers, tones, etc.? Is it of any real help to know Chinese, or is it much better to start studying Vietnamese as a completely different language?

Suggestions welcome.

Best regards,
Fabio Descalzi


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Kurt Porter  Identity Verified
Local time: 07:55
Russian to English
+ ...
Vietnamese Dec 25, 2007

Study it as it's own language. If I'm not mistaken, Chinese has four tones, while Vietnames has six. Of course, the writing systems are different too. Vietnamese grammar is not very complex. Once you get the tones down, the main grammar rules, pronunciation, i'ts all vocabulary enhancement. Good luck!

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Shane Wall  Identity Verified
Vietnam
Local time: 09:55
Vietnamese to English
+ ...
Chinese & Vietnamese: Unrelated, but some shared history Dec 25, 2007

Hi Fabio,
Modern Vietnamese is not related to Chinese. However, as you have correctly identified, Vietnamese has a very large 'stock' of borrowed/loan words from Chinese (some say up to 40% of Vietnamese can be traced back to Chinese).

This has come about for two main reasons:
a) Present-day Vietnam was ruled by the Chinese for over 1,000 years; and
b) The first ever written Vietnamese was done by adapting Chinese characters to Vietnamese words (1 character for meaning and 1 character for pronunciation).

Learning Chinese will be of little help if your final purpose is to understand Vietnamese, although they do share some similarities of syntax. Vietnamese also includes many borrowings from French, and increasingly from English (especially in the technical fields).

I studied Vietnamese from "zero to hero" in 46 weeks of full-time study at the Australian Government language school. The method used could best be described as "intense immersion". For an English speaker, by far the highest hurdle is the very first one you must overcome: the tone system. I liken it to taking up rock-climbing as a hobby, and tackling Mount Everest as your first assignment!

The tones are so important that during my course, we Vietnamese students (and our colleagues learning Thai and Chinese) spent the first 6 weeks in the language labs. We could barely speak a word of our new language - just babble out isolated sounds! However, this method reached so far down into our 'soul' that the tone system becomes an integral part of you. Just like your first language, it is impossible to forget!

I would suggest a method not unlike a singing or voice coach. Find a Vietnamese first language speaker to "coach" you with the correct pronunciation. Have them construct a table of all the vowel, diphthong and associated tones (not all tones can be used with all vowels/diphthongs) and systematically work your way through them!

Unlike English, learning Vietnamese grammar can be useful in learning the language. The grammar is relatively straight forward, logical and overwhelmingly consistent (which English grammar definitely is NOT).

Once you have mastered the tones and have a working understanding of the grammar, it is very simple to "insert" new vocabulary into the structures.

Like Chinese, written Vietnamese is remarkably similar regardless of dialect (Northern, Central or Southern). The biggest difference is vocabulary choice; the same object may have a different name in another dialect. However, overall you will be able to understand the meaning regardless of the spoken dialect of the author.

Spoken Vietnamese has 3 main dialects: Northern, based on the dialect of the Hanoi region, and considered the "official" language; Central, based on the dialect of the Hue region, and Southern, based on the dialect of the Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) region. There are other sub-dialects which are delineated by geography.

Most Vietnamese would suggest learning the Northern dialect. For me, this is the easiest to learn because of the "crisp", clear, distinct clarity of the differences between the tones. The Central and Southern dialects tend to "blend" words and sounds together, making it more difficult to make a distinction.

Interesting Footnote: Depending on what statistics you believe, Vietnamese may be the 13th most spoken first language on earth, with as many as 85+ million speakers!

Chúc mấy mắn học tiếng Việt!

Shane

www.translingualexpress.com


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silver_galaxy
English to Vietnamese
+ ...
Han/Nom/Quoc Ngu May 12, 2008

Fabio Descalzi wrote:

Reading about the fundamentals of Vietnamese, I come to learn that a lot of its vocabulary has been borrowed from Chinese. But what about the rest of the language? Word order, structure, syntax, use of classifiers, tones, etc.? Is it of any real help to know Chinese, or is it much better to start studying Vietnamese as a completely different language?

Suggestions welcome.

Best regards,
Fabio Descalzi


Hi Fabio,

This is a fascinating topic! I recently went to a talk about the Vietnamese language history. I have the paper, but unfortunately it's in Vietnamese, otherwise I'd be more than happy to forward.

I am not sure to what extent your Chinese background can/will help you learn Vietnamese. But there's certainly connection between the two, as Shane points out. Growing up I was taught to distinguish between Han-Viet (literal translation: chinese-vietnamese) and Viet. Maybe this example will help.

English: dragon
Han-Viet: long
Viet: rong

When I say the word "long", my Chinese friends can tell what I mean, and vice versa, but if I use "rong", then only a Vietnamese speaker will understand.

Tones do get tricky. My non-Vietnamese friends learn by living/working in Viet Nam for a period of time. Will this be an option for you? Grammar is super easy comparing to Spanish or say, Polish. So I think learning to read and write won't be as challenging as speak. And yes, as much as it pains my southern Vietnamese friends and families, when it comes to learning Vietnamese, the northern accent works best (and it sounds lovely, to me). Good luck. If I think of more suggestions or resources I'll let you know.

Ngan


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Juan Chen  Identity Verified
China
Member (2008)
English to Chinese
+ ...
:-) Jun 2, 2008

They are totally different. Obviously Chinese is more difficult to learn.
But, when I was in Beijing last summer, I met lots of foreigners who could speak very fluent and standard Mandrin. You mentioned the four tones in Chinese, yes, these foreigners can identify them quite clearly.


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mengyan sun
Local time: 10:55
Chinese to English
+ ...
I think vietnamese and Chinese are different Jul 3, 2008

I am a Chinese. Though I have no idea about Vietnamese, I know a little about Japanese and Korean. The two languages I mentioned are both related to Chinese, but I think they are more difficult than English for me to learn. In my opinion, no matter Japanese, Korean, or Vietnamese, though there may be some link in vacabuarary with Chinese, they are totally different language. They are as difficult as any other foreign language.

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chica nueva
Local time: 14:55
Chinese to English
Chinese influence on Vietnam: Han Dynasty Nanyue - Tang Dynasty Annam; use of Chinese characters May 6, 2009

Shane Wall wrote:
Hi Fabio,
Modern Vietnamese is not related to Chinese. However, as you have correctly identified, Vietnamese has a very large 'stock' of borrowed/loan words from Chinese (some say up to 40% of Vietnamese can be traced back to Chinese).

This has come about for two main reasons:
a) Present-day Vietnam was ruled by the Chinese for over 1,000 years; and
b) The first ever written Vietnamese was done by adapting Chinese characters to Vietnamese words (1 character for meaning and 1 character for pronunciation).


Hello Vietnamese language peers. I have not been to Vietnam, however I did a little research on this, because it was of interest.

1 History of contacts: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Annam_(Chinese_province)
In the 2nd century BCE, what later became Annam was part of the kingdom of Nanyue, ... In 111 BCE, the Han imperial government, under Emperor Wu of Han, invaded Nanyue and asserted direct control for the first time. By 108 BCE, the conquest was completed ...

2 Language: http://www.omniglot.com/writing/chunom.htm
Vietnamese Chữ-nôm script (based on Chinese characters)

[ Here is an extract from a Chinese cultural reader for young people recording Han Empire events relating to Nanyue/Vietnam:
'Hanwudi and the Han Empire:
In regard to China's ancient history, people often mention Hanwudi and Qinshihuang in the same breath. This is quite reasonable, because the feudal centrally-ruled state first set up by Qinshihuang was not consolidated until Hanwudi.
... Hanwudi also sent envoys to the Southwest, and following in Qinshihuang's stead, set up nine commanderies in Nanyue (Vietnam), and in today's Yunnan and Guizhou areas set up eight commanderies. He made a great contribution towards bringing the peoples of the nationalities of this region and the Han people together, to work jointly for the development of our country.' (Translated from Wang Yong Kuan et al., Native land, China Youth Press, Beijing, 1983) ]

[Edited at 2009-05-06 09:34 GMT]


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chica nueva
Local time: 14:55
Chinese to English
Mon-Khmer branch of Austro-Asiatic languages, modified through Chinese and Tai contacts/borrowings May 8, 2009

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Austro-Asiatic_languages
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vietnamese_language

Hello Fabio and everyone,

I found this quite interesting, showing that although Vietnamese and Chinese come from two different language families, Vietnamese has some 'surface' similarities to Cantonese and Tai believed to be from language contact, and quite a lot of foreign loanwords.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vietic_languages
Vietnamese was identified as an Austroasiatic language in the mid nineteenth century, ... Vietnamese has also large stocks of borrowed Chinese and Tai vocabulary, and is today a monosyllabic tonal language like Cantonese or Tai rather than a prototypical Austroasiatic language. ... However, these typological similarities are considered superficial, the result of language contact, ...


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belitrix
Local time: 04:55
German to Italian
+ ...
Nice question May 11, 2009

Please refer to my favorite book "Die Sprachen der Welt" - Frederick Bodmer - Kiepenheuer + Witsch, Koeln. Don't know if there are any translations of this book in other languages. It would be worth trying to translate it.

Here you can find references in any language and their interference. Did you know that our arian tongue is in certain ways related to words used in India. The roots of certain idioms are more or less adapted in other tongues. The same thing must have happened in Vietnam - a country often occupied by other nations such as China, Japan, France and not but not least the terrible war of the States.

Learning languages is a task never ending and in continuous development. I - being German - am always surprised of the vocabulary my children have and the vocabulary I esteem to be German - they don't know it any more.

The Anglicisms - I often use them myself to communicate.

I wouldn't dare to say that "Netherlandish" is the same language as "German". And even in Germany we have local differences like e.g. "Pietermesserchen" in the northern regions of Germany, which we call here (more in the South) "Kneipchen" which means a short knife to cut e.g. onions etc. etc. etc.

I don't wonder about the Chinese, French or other particles of words used in the Vietnamese language.

[Bearbeitet am 2009-05-11 08:25 GMT]

[Bearbeitet am 2009-05-11 08:30 GMT]


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